“I send greetings to those celebrating the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rat.” — President George Bush

For some reason, that presidential message cracked me up when it arrived in my inbox Tuesday. I guess I don’t expect presidential lunar rat greetings (though the Chinese New Year is certainly worthy of a presidential shout-out).

Today is the first day of the Chinese new year. It is the year of the rat, the first of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The rat is supposedly a protector and bringer of material prosperity. Rat is also associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, as well as death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities. Yippee.

I am personally just worried that the rats of DC will decide, “It’s OUR year!!” and raise a revolt. Have mercy upon us.

Living in the city, there are some rats that dwell in the alley behind our house. I was disgusted when I first saw them one night, climbing the stairs of the two-flat right behind us. Actually, they were so large, I first thought they were small cats or an opossum or something. But no, those were rats. I saw them again another night and another night. I usually just looked away quickly in horror, but then one night I started to watch them. This one rat just kept going up and down the stairs, over and over. It was hilarious. We would look out the window and –oh!, there he was again! — up and down, up and down. We named him The Stairmaster, also The Exerciser. And you know what happens when you name something — it becomes a friend.

There appeared to be two rats, though my research on the species indicates that there are always many more, which is a somewhat disgusting thought. But the stairmaster and his friend — I think my next-door neighbors call him Fred — were not too bad. If it was just them, doing their exercise thing on the stairs, I could handle it. They were almost kind of cute.

We tried to live peacefully with the rats. This was in part because it is really hard to get rid of rats in the city, so I felt resigned to accepting them as neighbors. Whenever I walked outside onto our back patio/yard/postage-stamp, I would greet the world by shouting, clapping my hands, and stomping my feet (the joy of the Lord is my strength, you know) to scare any rats away. All of this may sound insane to my suburban or rural readers, and it is, but just substitute some cuter pesky creature — a raccoon, perhaps — and it may make more sense.

But it gets worse. Last week we were enjoying a peaceful evening at home when we heard what sounded like an animal outside — like a dog or cat that wanted to get in, except we don’t have a dog or cat (sadly). Then the sound was suddenly overhead, like some creature with significant toenails was running around upstairs or in the ceiling. It scurried around and then the sound stopped. I banged on the ceiling — nothing. It was not a mouse — we’ve had those before, and you certainly can’t hear them walking.

It was not a pleasant sound.

It may be time to seek vengeance on the rats.

I was living in fear all of that night, but we did not hear or see anything else. One week later, we still have not heard or seen anything else suspicious (at least not in the creature-in-the-house department), so I am just trying to convince myself it was a squirrel on the roof, or an auditory trick, or the dogs next door. I just pray the year of the rat is *not* the year the rats take over my home. Anyone have a nutcracker and an army of wooden soldiers I could borrow?